#7 Maine Thing To Do - Catch / Eat a Maine Lobster / Own a Trap

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Lobsters love The Maine Coast because of its environment of cold, clean water and rocky bottom habitat ideal for lobsters.

Not too long ago, Lobster was known as a poor mans food. Lobster today is known as “Luxury” food.

There are more than 6000 lobsterman in Maine, mostly working out of small coastal communities, some for generations.

You can try this by catchin a ride with a lobsterman that provides a tour,instructs you on how to catch a lobster, and then lets you do it.  You can take your lobster and have lobster after the ride!!

Economic Impact: Maine lobster makes a major contribution to the state’s economy. In 2006, the catch exceeded 72 million pounds and generated close to $300 million in ex-vessel or dock value. The fishery provides a livelihood for over 5,700 lobster harvesters, and supports businesses such as processors, dealers, marine outfitters, boat makers, retailers and restaurants. This vital fishing industry supports hundreds of small, coastal villages and communities that give Maine its unique character.

Harvesters: Lobsters in Maine are harvested by boat captains independently or with one or two assistants. Lobstering in Maine is largely an in-shore fishery, with boats generally making day trips within 10-12 miles of shore. Each harvester can fish up to 800 traps, hauling and setting a portion of their traps each day. The colorful buoys dotting the Maine coastline are like registered trademarks for the harvesters. Each lobsterman registers his or her buoy markings with the State.

New Shells: Maine is well-known for its delicious new shell lobsters. About once a year, mature lobsters shed their tough, old shell for a new, larger shell that hardens over time. These new-shell lobsters yield a succulent, flavorful meat in a shell that can often be cracked by hand. ”New Shells” are much sought after by lobster aficionados, or, as we call them, lobster lovers.

Lobster Season: Lobsters are harvested year-round in Maine, although the majority are caught between late June and late December when the lobsters are most active. Lobsters continue to be harvested during the winter and early spring months, although fewer are caught during this time.

Catching a lobster is easier than you think in Maine.  You can charter a boat from just about anywhere.

The History of Lobstering
Historically, lobsters were so plentiful that Native Americans used them to fertilize their fields and to bait their hooks for fishing. The first official Maine lobster landings were reported by James Rosier, a member of Captain George Weymouth’s crew. In an account of a voyage to Maine in 1605, Rosier wrote: “And towards night we drew with a small net of twenty fathoms very nigh the shore; we got about thirty very good and great lobsters…which I omit not to report, because it sheweth how great a profit fishing would be…”

In a sense, the Maine lobster fishery began with Rosier’s account, and it is therefore probably the oldest, continuously operated industry on the North American continent. Actual development of the fishery, of course, did not take place until many years later. In colonial times, lobsters were considered “poverty food”. They were harvested by hand along the shoreline and served to prisoners and indentured servants who exchanged their passage to America for seven years of service to their sponsors. In Massachusetts, some of the servants finally rebelled. They had their contracts state that they would not be forced to eat lobster more than three times a week.

It is not entirely clear when Maine lobsters were first marketed. The commercial importance of the fishery in supplying out-of-state markets did not come about until after 1840. Massachusetts dealers began looking to Maine lobster grounds for a continuing supply of the species. A demand for fresh lobsters in the large marketing areas of New York and Boston was a strong incentive for fishermen to specialize in these crustaceans.

It is believed that the primary factor which resulted in the exploitation of the lobster resource was the sudden success of the canning industry. The spreading fame of Maine lobsters and the lack of adequate facilities for distribution of fresh product were the factors that stimulated the beginning of the canning industry in 1840. During the early years of this new industry, lobsters were brought by smacks, sailing vessels with live wells, to the Eastport cannery from the western part of the State. Before long, the success of the new venture led to the construction of 23 factories scattered along the coast as far west as Portland.

The canneries were so efficient at processing that they were soon forced to work with smaller lobsters. In 1860, James P. Baxter recalled that four to five pound lobsters were considered small and two pound lobsters were being discarded as not worth the effort to pick the meat for canning. Only 20 years later, the canneries were stuffing meat from half-pound lobsters into the tins for processing, a sign that the fishery had been exploited by 1880. The canning industry made obvious the need for conservation and law enforcement if the fishery was to survive.

Following the collapse of the canning industry, the fresh lobster industry took over the commercialization of the fishery. The first lobster pound appeared on Vinalhaven in 1875 and others quickly followed. Originally in deep tidal creeks, today they are more common on docks floating in the harbor.

Using the pound, dealers could wait for the price of lobster to increase or allow a newly molted lobster time to harden its shell. These live storage facilities became the backbone of the modern lobster industry.
By the 1930’s, the traveling smackmen were being replaced by local, land based buyers who served as the link between the harvesters and the public. The buyer purchased lobsters from a harvester who in turn bought fuel, bait, and other gear from the buyer. The local buyer then either sold the lobsters to people who came down to the docks or turned them over to a regional dealer who sent the lobsters out of state. Tidal pounds and other holding devices have made possible the development and maintenance of more stable marketing conditions.

Records of annual harvest and the value of the catch to the State’s fishermen have been kept with varying degrees of regularity since 1880. More accurate and detailed records have been compiled annually since 1939. Throughout the 1990’s, there have been significant record high landings. Maine lobster landings data are available at http://www.maine.gov/dmr/comfish.htm.

The Biology of the Lobster
The American lobster (Homarus americanus) is one of about 30 species of clawed lobsters found in the world’s oceans. Characterized by its large claws, it is the only clawed lobster found in the Northwestern Atlantic. A relatively shallow species, it ranges from Labrador to North Carolina, with the largest concentrations found in the shoal waters off Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.

The lobster is one of the many ten-legged crustaceans found in the ocean. An animal without a backbone, it is protected by an external skeleton composed of a flexible material called chitin. This exoskeleton is a restrictive structure that must be shed before the animal can grow; therefore, a lobster’s life is a series of molts regulated by a variety of other factors.

Since lobsters are bottom dwellers at depths where light may be of low intensity, color may or may not constitute camouflage. The familiar dark greenish-blacks are most common, but mixed colors, calicos, blues, reds, yellows, and even albinos, exist. The unusual colored lobsters are genetic mutations. When any of these lobsters are cooked, the pigment is altered by the heat to produce the familiar red color.

The lobster’s body consists of two parts: The joined head and thorax (often called the body) and the jointed abdomen or tail. Two compound eyes at the ends of short flexible stalks are located on either side of the sharp, bony projection called the rostrum. Also attached to the head are two pairs of antennae, a short two-branched pair used in the chemical location of food and a long, whip like pair used in touch and orientation.

The lobster uses its claws in the feeding process, with the crusher claw being the larger of the two. Appendages near the mouth, called maxillipeds, direct the food to the jaws. The food passes from the mouth to the three-chambered stomach by a short esophagus. In the mid-chamber, the gastric mill, a set of chitinous teeth grinds the food. In the posterior chamber, juices from the digestive gland, often called tomalley, start digestion. The food is absorbed by the digestive gland and distributed throughout the body by means of the blood. Undigested food passes through the intestine, located down the tail, and exits via the anus. Liquid waste material is extracted from the blood by the antennal glands and excreted through openings at the base of each second antenna.

The gills are enclosed by the curving edges of the carapace in a cavity called the gill chamber. Twenty pairs of gills have numerous filaments arranged around a central axis, somewhat like a bottle brush. The blood flows past these filaments on the inside and sea water passes by the filaments on the outside, allowing the exchange of gases. Water enters the gill chamber from the back and leaves from the front. Movement through the chamber is the result of the constant beating of the second maxilla, called the gill bailer. Every few minutes the gill bailer reverses its beat for a few strokes to wash the silt or other debris from the gills. This process maintains the gills at peak operating efficiency.

Lobsters may take five to eight years to reach sexual maturity. The female sex organs, called the ovaries or “coral”, are two cylindrical rods traversing from the middle of the body to the tail. The openings from the ovaries to the outside are located on the basal segment of the third walking legs. The female has a seminal receptacle on the ventral surface near the junction of the thorax and abdomen, which stores viable sperm up to two years after mating. Lobsters mate seasonally, generally just after the female molts.

The female releases a continuous stream of eggs from the oviduct openings. As the eggs pass the seminal receptacle, they are fertilized; covered with a glue-like substance, they stick to each other and the swimmerets. The female protects her eggs from predators, keeps them clean, and oxygenates them for nine to eleven months. When the eggs are ready to hatch, the female walks into the current, unfurls her tail, and vigorously waves her swimmerets, which releases the free-swimming larvae into the water. She releases them a batch at a time, a practice that increases their chances for survival.

The lobster larvae are free swimmers, but are distributed by the water currents. They rise to the surface and actively seek their food from plankton. During this free-swimming period, which lasts from 15 to 25 days, the lobsters are prey to many animals, including their own kind. The newly hatched lobsters do not resemble the adult lobster. They are about 8 mm long with large eyes and no claws. Over a period of a few weeks, the larvae molt three times, changing in size and structure until they look like miniature adults. As stage IV post larvae, they settle to the ocean floor and become bottom dwellers. The lobster molts about seven times the first year, then at a slower rate from that point on. From first stage larvae to adult legal size, the lobster has molted between 25 to 27 times. It is estimated that a one-pound lobster may be five to seven years of age. With each molt, a legal sized lobster may increase in carapace length by 14% and gain 40-50% in weight. The record for the largest documented lobster goes to one taken off Nova Scotia in 1977. It weighed 44 pounds, six ounces and may have been 100 years old. One of the most remarkable phenomena of the lobster is reflex amputation. It will throw off an appendage when stimulated by shock, fear, or injury. In this way, it sometimes does itself serious injury to escape a worse fate; however, it has the power to regenerate or grow back a new appendage. A lost claw, walking leg, or antenna will increase in size with each successive molt.

More information on lobster biology is available at http://www.maine.gov/dmr/rm/lobster/index.htm.

also check out www.lobsterfrommaine.com

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